Meagan Curtis, a watershed coordinator with the American Samoa Coral Reef Advisory Group, and her team are working to help reduce stormwater impacts in the Village of Faga’alu, American Samoa, through the use of natural and nature-based projects, such as green infrastructure.
In 2015, the group coordinated and conducted a rain garden installation training clinic. The purpose of the clinic was to 1) construct a demonstration rain garden, 2) increase local capacity to install future rain gardens, and 3) provide instructional materials that could be adapted by the advisory group for future use.
The main driver behind this project and others is Faga’alu watershed’s failure to meet water quality standards set by American Samoa’s Environmental Protection Agency (excess total nitrogen, total phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, and Enterrococcus bacteria levels). These stressors impact water quality, fishing, quality of life, and human and coral reef health.
The NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program chose Faga’alu as a priority watershed for developing a watershed management and conservation plan. This planning process focused on identifying key threats and improving management of watershed resources. Priority threats identified include poor management of litter and trash, excess sedimentation, and declining fisheries. Community members are also learning how to manage their resources from ridge to reef. This work was done in partnership with the Land-Based Sources of Pollution Local Action Strategy Group.
After the plan was complete, the program funded the Horsley Witten Group to develop an implementation plan. Several projects were designed that could be implemented once funding became available. These included increasing knowledge on stormwater and conducting projects that reduce stormwater impacts.
In 2012, Faga’alu was chosen as a priority site for the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Watershed Partnership Initiative, providing additional funding along with Coral Reef Conservation Program dollars to make priority projects possible, including the rain garden installation training clinic.
Rain gardens are fairly simple to install, which make them a great teaching tool about how well nature-based solutions can help absorb rainwater. Meagan’s role was to coordinate and help plan the rain garden installation workshop.
Meagan’s team included Anne Kitchell, an environmental planner with the Horsley Witten Group, Inc. Anne helped evaluate potential sites and drafted designs and sizing calculations based on the proposed sites. Anne also worked with Todd Cullison, executive director of Hui o Ko’olaupoko in Hawaii, to design and teach the training clinic. Todd developed a rain garden manual for Hawaii, and Anne has been holding similar rain garden installation workshops on other Pacific Islands. These materials and experiences helped inform the Faga’alu training clinic. A civil and environmental engineer from Horsley Witten rounded out the team.
Three sites were evaluated for the rain garden installation: an interior courtyard at the hospital, a public elementary school, and the Faga’alu Beach Park. Designs were developed and permits were obtained for two sites. However, site visits revealed that the hospital site was not suitable, so ultimately the beach park was selected.
“As an engineer, I do site designs, but Meagan was instrumental in making the installation clinic happen because she knew the process and the players—having someone on the ground was essential to making this happen,” said Anne Kitchell. “For example, one of the potential install sites was the hospital. On paper it made sense, but in reality, logistically the scale was not going to work—the hospital site was too small to fit heavy equipment and 40 people installing a rain garden in two days. Because Meagan is local, she could visit the sites, note the site characteristics, and share that with me. We went back to the drawing board and had to change the location for the rain garden.”
Meagan also helped to acquire the permits needed, a process that took approximately two months. She worked with the permitting office to provide the necessary information, such as a site plan which shows the proposed project’s size, use, topography, location of streams, wetlands, roads, and other features. She also met with various government agencies during site inspections. The site plans were drafted in collaboration with the Department of Public Works. The land use permits were approved by the Public Review and Notification System board and administered by the Department of Commerce. The permit application is a simple form but required the governor’s signature, since all proposed sites were located on public lands.
Before the rain garden installation training clinic, it was crucial to get buy-in from local leaders. NOAA staff members from the Pacific Islands Regional Office contacted the Office of Samoan Affairs for permission to give a presentation on the rain garden project for over 60 mayors and village representatives. An overview of the project was given by NOAA and Horsley Witten during the biweekly meeting that is held to discuss island issues.
This was an opportunity for the project team to invite the leaders to the rain garden installation workshop and to discuss opportunities to bring future installations to other villages. The project team offered to tour any villages while on island to discuss drainage issues and look for potential rain garden opportunities. All mayors received a rain garden project application to share with their villages. The mayors suggested that training materials also be made available in the Samoan language.
Day 1: Rain Garden Introduction
The two-day training was attended by 35 people from local agencies and villages. On the first day, Anne and Todd lead participants through the basics of rain garden features, site selection, design, and maintenance. In the afternoon, participants went outside to look for rain garden opportunities around the Office of Samoan Affairs facility.
Day 2: Installing the Rain Garden
During the second day, Anne, Rich, and Todd led the participants in the construction of the rain garden and the local Land Grant program provided plants and planting guidance.
Local support and donations made this installation possible. America Samoa Community College’s horticulturist provided a variety of plants, and the Department of Agriculture donated taro. The Faga’alu Village mayor donated tools and equipment, and Samoa Maritime donated equipment and operator time, stone, and filter fabric.
Each participant was given an American Samoa-specific rain garden installation training guide, as well as copies of a general maintenance plan. The manual is a do-it-yourself guide that takes builders through the processes of locating, sizing, constructing, and planting a rain garden on their own properties. Electronic copies of all instructional materials and training slideshows were made available to Coral Reef Advisory Group for distribution and were translated into Samoan.